Tentative $32M Settlement Announced in Torture-Death of 10-Year-Old Anthony Avalos

Anthony Avalos' mother and her boyfriend are charged in the criminal case involving the death of the 10-year-old Lancaster boy.

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An attorney for family members of Anthony Avalos announced a tentative $32 million settlement in a civil case lawsuit over the torture and death of the 10-year-old Lancaster boy.

The boy's father, aunt, uncle and six of his half-siblings filed a lawsuit last summer against the county, alleging that multiple social workers failed to properly respond to reports of abuse of Anthony and his siblings.

During a downtown Los Angeles news conference, attorney Brian Claypool said Los Angeles County has tentatively agreed to pay $32 million in a lawsuit settlement. The settlement was announced last week in court, but terms were not disclosed until Wednesday.

"This little boy has a smile on his face because he knows we went to bat for him," Claypool said. "He knows that kids are going to be saved in the future in honor of him."

Anthony's family members also spoke at the news conference.

"I truly believe that Anthony could have been saved," said aunt Maria Barron.

The settlement terms are still subject to approval from the county Board of Supervisors.

As for the criminal case, a 32-year-old Lancaster woman and her 36-year-old boyfriend are charged with murder and torture in connection with the June 2018 death of her son. They are awaiting trial.

In court papers, prosecutors alleged that Anthony was severely tortured during the last five or six days of his life. The alleged abuse included whipping with a belt and a looped cord, pouring hot sauce on his face and mouth, holding him by his feet and dropping him on his head repeatedly, according to the court papers.

Deputies and paramedics responded to a 911 call from Anthony's mother June 20 and found her son unresponsive inside his family's apartment. Authorities said they were told that the child had suffered injuries from a fall, but investigators quickly classified the death as "suspicious."

Anthony died early the next morning, authorities said.

The family's lawsuit cites other high-profile deaths of children who were also being monitored by DCFS -- 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez and 4-year old Noah Cuatro, both of Palmdale -- to allege "systemic failures" in the agency.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services issued a statement declining to comment on the specifics of the suit, but generally defending the agency's work.

"At any given time, the Department of Children and Family Services serves more than 34,000 families and vulnerable children in Los Angeles County with an unwavering commitment to pursue child safety every day in our communities," according to the agency. "Our 9,000 employees do not take this commitment lightly and look to do everything possible to safeguard the children in our care.

"All DCFS employees are held the highest standards to ensure that the public trust in our service is honored and maintained."

The accord with the county leaves Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services as the only defendant in the lawsuit brought in July 2019. The lawsuit accused the county and multiple social workers of failing to properly respond to reports of abuses of Anthony and his half-siblings. The suit alleges Hathaway-Sycamores assigned employee Barbara Dixon to work with the family even though she had allegedly not reported abuse in the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, who, like Anthony, was killed while in the care of his mother and her boyfriend.

But in their court papers, attorneys for Hathaway-Sycamores state the plaintiffs make no allegations as to what Dixon allegedly witnessed or whether she suspected any abuse that was not already part of what the county Department
of Children and Family Services already knew.

A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 32, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 36, in October 2018 on charges that they murdered the boy and abused two other children in the household. The District Attorney's Office in May 2021 reversed course and announced it would no longer seek the death penalty against the pair, who now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

NBCLA's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.

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